The Pittsburgh Steelers are six games into their 2018 season and still looking for a starting cornerback opposite Joe Haden. The plan was obviously for Artie Burns to be that guy, but the third-year player has continued to struggle even in rotation, giving up an ugly touchdown in the team’s last game before the break.
Burns, a 2016 first-round draft pick, was first demoted in Week Three in favor of Coty Sensabaugh, with whom he has been rotating since. The hope is that the break will have provided him with some clarity to bounce back.
Head Coach Mike Tomlin was asked about the team’s plans for Burns going forward this season earlier today during his pre-game press conference. “We’ll determine that with the quality of his work and the work of others in practice”, he told reporters.
“He’s just got to keep working. He’s got to smile in the face of adversity”, the head coach continued. “Young guys in the National Football League go through periods, lulls in play, particularly in the secondary positions, [and] particularly at the cornerback position. You see it time and time again. Oftentimes their careers are defined by how they respond to it”.
The manner in which Burns has responded to the adversity the coaching staff has provided him has been mixed. He has produced a forced fumbled and recorded a safety, making some solid tackles against the run and the pass along the way, but has struggled in both man and zone coverage, and has spoken of having his confidence shaken.
“He’ll be given that opportunity”, Tomlin said, to prove himself again, adding that he likes the way that he has worked. “I know that when you step into stadiums and you step across that white line, you have an opportunity to show that growth. Because when you’ve got negative plays on tape at the cornerback position, people are going to throw at you, and that’s how it goes”.
Burns has put together a lot of ugly reps on his 2018 tape already, evidently showing signs of regression from his first two seasons in the league. As has been exhaustively discussed by now, this was meant to be his breakout campaign in which he establishes himself as a long-term starter, but at the moment, he doesn’t even look like a player whose fifth-year option should be picked up.
The good news for him is that he has 10 more games to prove otherwise, and prove to his coaches, his teammates, the fans, and to himself that he is capable of doing what he has always believed himself able to do, which is to be a starting NFL cornerback.